conflict free laptop

Where to go from here…

I’ve been incredibly frustrated with the computer industry’s response to my inquiries. I have hit a wall in my research, with little place left to go at this level. I have talked to the people at the companies who are responsible for dealing with human rights inquiries and they have all told me all the information they are willing to give. Their information has left me with many further questions and inquiries into how they are planning to change the problem in the future, and waiting on them to actually implement the changes voluntarily. This could take forever and I’m not willing to wait anymore.

The information they have shared is scary. It’s scary because it makes plain that these abuses are possibly happening in the manufacture of every modern electronics device and possibly far beyond this to include many other metal products that most North Americans use every single day.

Think about this for a moment. How many electronic devices do you have in your home? How many computers, laptops, cameras, cell phones, game consoles, etc. do you own? How many will you go through in the next 5 years? Each of these products has touched war. They have allowed human beings to be slaughtered, raped, enslaved, abused… They have allowed children to be recruited as soldiers, and forced them to grow up with violence all around them. How can any of these companies claim ethical purchasing policies at all? Why are they not responsible for ensuring their own product line is not causing human rights abuses in other parts of the world? Why are they allowed to sidestep legalities for profit? There is something seriously wrong with the world.

Some companies have taken baby steps to change, but everything is so disconnected that it is next to impossible to prove or disprove anything or to allow for complete change overnight.

My new goal has become to go to the higher source. To go to the metal companies that supply the computer and electronics industries with raw materials for manufacture. I think that these have more of a possibility for answers and success. Voluntary cooperation is not going to stop this violence.

I strive for regulation in the manufacture and extraction of raw materials, so that companies and unknowing consumers are not supporting war in another part of the world. There is no reason this type of violence should continue. There is no reason that we should unknowingly be supplying warlords with massive profits or weapons and allowing them to continue their violence. We need to stop fueling them with money and weapons– otherwise we are are partially guilty of the violence. We need to change our own ways, and voice our opinions to the companies and governments responsible.

Genocide is happening, and we are all part of it. The time has come to stop, and it will not happen through peacekeeping or UN efforts alone. This is only responding to the manifestations and not the underlying causes of the violence. YOU need to change. YOU need to become aware. YOU need to speak your mind to the companies and governments who allow this continue. YOU need to be aware that every time you purchase metals, you might be causing death and destruction through your purchases.

It is an uncomfortable thought, I know, but the longer we go on ignoring the problem– the longer it will continue. Please speak out against the abuses in the production of our luxuries and strive to make real change.

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Toshiba has been a brand much like HP, that makes it difficult for me to discount their claims outright. They seem to actually care, and have some structures in place (a corporate social responsibility framework) to be able to make a change and seem to be willing to discuss (to some extent) their policies. They are also one of the leaders (along with HP) in their overall environmental and social record. After a great deal of searching and prodding I think I have found the person at their company who can really start to give me some answers into the depths of these policies.

The first round of questioning went as expected. I inquired about their ethical purchasing and was sent the stock information on their corporate social responsibilty (CSR) policy which did not answer my questions and which I had already mostly read online before.

The information sent to me talked about their request to the component suppliers to take action against human rights abuses, but not the details of how far this actually goes and whether it is enforced or not in any great detail. It also mentioned that an independent audit was performed by a third party and that suppliers had been monitored, but no word on what the results had been of the monitoring and what actions had changed as a result of the overall policy. It also didn’t mention if this monitoring extended past manufacturers into raw material suppliers, which I am guessing it does not based on its wording.

The woman I had been dealing with eventually got back to me after a couple of weeks, apologizing for the late reply and sent me a link to their Procurement Policy (which I had already read thoroughly), and specified that they cannot disclose details of their suppliers for confidentiality reasons. Along with that she sent me this statement:

“Just for your information, upon our recent investigation/inquiry with
our suppliers(*) of PC components(*), we have been informed that they do not procure/use tantalum (Coltan) sourced from the DR Congo.”

but no evidence or link to where this information could be found or which level of suppliers was contacted and what they are actually doing to ensure this. There was also no mention in her email what the asterixes were implying.

I sent back a letter describing to her that most ore passes through at least 10 hands before it ever gets to the supplier stage and that much of the ore claimed to have come from neighbouring countries is actually sourced in the DR Congo war zones because of inadequate structures in place.

I also inquired why she had included (*) in her statements, because I didn’t read any fine print or addendum to the email that would explain their purpose.

I discussed the competition argument in light of HP’s (mostly) open supplier list and their ability to still remain competitive. I stated that I would like to continue the dialogue to receive more information about what their policy really meant.

This letter was sent 8 days ago and I am still waiting on a further response from Toshiba, which if past actions are an indicator, should be about another week out.

I am sick and tired of hearing claim after claim from these companies with no proof or backing for the claims. Most of the time they don’t even directly answer my questions (like in this email), they skirt the issue with other claims. Transparency is key. You can reveal your suppliers and still be competitive. You can open your company to scruitiny and still be competitive. In fact, I would be more likely to purchase your product if you allowed scruitiny into your product line, EVEN if it was possible that human rights abuses were still happening. The reasoning for this– you are at least making an effort and want the people to actually know what you are doing and not just using another marketing ploy to fool people into buying into your brand.

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